In a World Report published Online First and in this week’s Lancet, the governments of both Canada and Québec are condemned by a number of anti-asbestos campaigners and the Canadian Medical Association for exporting asbestos to vulnerable developing countries. Lancet Editor Dr Richard Horton adds The Lancet’s voice to those calling on the Québec Government not to provide a loan guarantee to a consortium that will revive Canada’s currently dying asbestos exports for another 25 years. The World Report is written by Tony Kirby, Media Relations Manager at The Lancet.
For many years, Canada has been a major exporter of white asbestos or ‘chrysotile’, with other major exporters being Russia, Kazakhstan, and Brazil. But in the past two decades, bans on chrysotile (in addition to those long in force for blue and brown asbestos) have existed, either in law or de facto, in many high-income countries, including the United Kingdom, which banned chrysotile in 1999, and Canada itself, which has not legally banned chrysotile but has a de facto ban. As such, more and more of Canada’s asbestos has been going to developing countries, where few or no protections exist and as such a time-bomb of deadly asbestos-related death and disease will continue to grow. Mesothelioma is a specific lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and diagnosis is almost always a death sentence. In the UK, deaths from mesothelioma have climbed from 895 in 1990 to 2,249 in 2008, with no sign of declining, as the effects of workers’ exposure in the 1960s and 70s continue to manifest. Similar trends are occurring in other high-income nations.
Canada’s chrysotile resources have been dwindling. However, an Indian-led consortium (led by Montreal-based financier Baljit Chadha) is now planning to convert the recently closed Jeffrey Mine in Québec from open pit to underground, which would see Canada produce and export some 10% of the world’s asbestos again. Protests are going on in London (9 Dec), Québec, and Asian cities against the Québec and Canada governments to stop the loan guarantee being given. In London, a coalition of UK anti-asbestos groups are protesting against the reopening of the Jeffrey Mine outside Canada House, London, before handing in a petition to 10 Downing Street. In Québec, an Asian Delegation from affected importing countries (including Indonesia, India, Korea and Japan) is holding a number of public events and press conferences across the province.
Laurie Kazan-Allen, coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) and producer of the British Asbestos Newsletter says: “For over a decade, we have been engaged in a David and Goliath battle with asbestos lobbyists, stakeholder governments and commercial interests. They maintain that asbestos can be used safely under controlled conditions, but we know this is wrong. A new asbestos mine in Québec would be an abomination.”
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